When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, or any other serious illness, one of the hardest things can be simply figuring out what to say. What does my loved one/friend/sister/cousin need to hear from me? What do they want me to say? To complicate the question further, you may be dealing with your own fears about their diagnosis – what does cancer mean for them and what does it mean for me? One of my brothers summed it up best when he told me that it took him several days to simply suck up the courage to call me. It’s not that he didn’t love me. He simply didn’t know what to say.
If the truth is told, most of us don’t know what to say. Is it better to ask about the diagnosis and treatment or remain silent? What if I say the wrong thing? What if they don’t want to talk about it? No one wants to make the situation worse and unfortunately, the Dummies-Guide-for-Friends-and-Relatives-of-Cancer-Patients hasn’t rolled off the press yet leaving us to wade through the myriad of should I or shouldn’t I question all on our own.
After all the emotions die down, we’re still left with the choice – do we ask or remain silent? Will my asking help them feel better or worse? What do they need? The answer is different for everyone. What I need from you may be very different than what your Great Aunt Sally or your best friend, or even your co-worker at the office needs. Also, what I need from you isn’t going to be what I need from my husband or best friend.
But, if there’s one universal in all this journey called cancer, I’d say that we all need to know you care and that you’re there if and when we need you. Showing your concern and compassion can take many forms depending on your personality and your relationship to the person diagnosed with cancer. Because compassion comes from the heart, there’s no one single right way to show concern, care and compassion.
I’ve been so blest and love, care and concern have been showered on me in many different forms. Each expression of love and caring is as different and unique as the individual expressing their heart. How they choose to communicate their concern isn’t important. The important thing is that they do take the time to let me know they care. If you don’t know what to say or do, follow your heart. You’ll never go wrong following your hear.
Some things that have meant a lot to me.
Show me your sorrow. When my neighbor, Margaret, found out I had cancer, she stood in my kitchen and cried. Her tears spoke more compassion and healing that mere words alone could have ever conveyed. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.
Send an email. I have chemo every Thursday and every Wednesday night, without fail, I get an email from my mother-in-law telling me that she’s thinking of me and that I’ll be in her thoughts the next day. Every Thursday afternoon, I get a follow up email from her asking if I’m OK. Tiki could call me but knows that sometimes, I don’t necessarily feel like talking on Thursday after chemo. Email is a great way of letting your loved one know that they’re in your thoughts.
Send a letter or card. Believe it or not, people really do still send real letters and cards! Every week since my diagnosis, I’ve received a handwritten card or note from my friend Linda. Linda and I are both writers and the sending the card totally suits both our personalities. I look forward to seeing that familiar handwriting each week when I check the mail. It’s an encouragement to me.
Text messages count. Terri’s been a caregiver many times to friends and family members. As someone living with a chronic, incurable disease herself, she know that you don’t always want to engage in long phone conversations. She’s also full of life and the joy in any party so social media is right up our communication alley. Every Thursday I get a text message after chemo – are you ok? How did you do? What do you need? Can I do anything for you? She also checks on me every Saturday and Sunday because she knows those are my “bad” days.
Heal my heart with food. My daughter, Rebekah, pours her care into a very practical form – she feeds us. Once a month she arrives what a plethora of homemade (all organic and generally gourmet) dishes, packaged in portions to feed two and ready to tempt our tastebuds. All we have to do is defrost and reheat the delicious concoctions. You can taste the love in every bite! Cotton has become quite spoiled and while he’ll never admit it out loud, I strongly suspect he’ll be sad when the day comes that I resume my role in the kitchen. Bekah is a much better cook than I am!
Don’t forget to call. Cancer can be a lonely journey and it’s amazing how small my circle of friends and family has become. Sometimes, I just need to hear your voice, so call me. (Bekah calls me every day and Cotton and Bekah both call me during chemo.)
Unexpected angels. I’m blest to know a large group of older women whom I’ve dubbed doorknob angels. I find the most unexpected (and welcome) gifts hanging on my door knob all the time – a scarf, a brownie, flowers. Every little gift seems to arrive at just the ‘right’ moment. Thank God for the doorknob angels!